A Reflective Christian

All for God’s Kingdom

The mind-body problem and Jesus

The mind-body problem has been the focus of debate and discussion. Descartes tried to place the exact point of the soul. Modern day materialism tries to deny it altogether. Others maintain a strict dualism. But the topic has been thrown around and there hasn’t been any conensus, nor will there be anytime soon.

However, there has been a growing trend with people who can not accept materialism’s claims, but yet also have a problem with a soul-body dualism. They have formulated a solution called epiphenomanlism, in which the soul exists but it is purely a byproduct of the body. Epiphenomanlism is even workable in classical Christian belief, due to the belief in resurrection and the fact that some postulate that one the soul exists, it may continue to exist even if the physical cause does not.

But the problem has far ranging implications for Orthodox Christianity. In an attempt to try to explain things totally in terms of the observable, one may take an axe to the trunk of Christianity in regards to our understanding of Jesus. If the soul is a byproduct of the body, then one is left with an interesting dilemma when it comes to the person of Christ. The results could be either towards a denial of Jesus divinity, denial of Jesus’ humanity mythology, pantheism, or a peculiar form of materialism.

If human like is not comprised of an existance independent of the body, then where does that leave the person of Jesus, the Logos of God? The Logos spoken of existed with God in the beginning would not naturally be viewed as a physical entity. And yet, if we proclaim humanity is a body with a projected soul, then Jesus becomes either a superhuman with something more than all other people have or he becomes a God who is only in the illusory apperance of a person. Where can the non-material pre-existant Logos fit into the equation?

The next possibly solution would be to move towards a form of mythology, in which God is not a trascendant being, but he lives as the form of a person. Not only does this deny orthodoxy in God’s transcendance, but it also leads to the denial of the Trinity itself. One must accept either Jesus being by himself God (a form of modalism) or tritheism.  Such would not appeal either to a materialistic world or to Christian orthodoxy.

The next step would be to move towards pantheism, in which God is everything and thus Jesus can be God. One might even move further and say that Jesus is God fully realized. But again, this strikes against the root of Orthodoxy, like above, in its denial of classic theism.

A final form, similar to another idea, is a weird form of materialism in which God himself is a material being. It is different from the mythological view subtly in that it doesn’t present God necessarily as a human being. But in order to incoporate Jesus divinity, one must state that God himself can be material.

The last three would be rejected by almost all people (except pantheists accepting the pantheistic working). The first, while maybe acceptable to different groups, strikes right at the heart of the Incarnation.

One doens’t have to accept a radical dualism, a one way interaction from the body to the spirit is workable within Christian theology and Incarnational understanding. But the rejection of an independent immaterial existance calls for the rejection of the Orthodox faith as a whole.

October 8, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why I dislike Trinitarian language

The title makes me sound blasphemous, but do not get me wrong, I maintain the basic meaning of the Trinity. I will even use the Trinitarian language at times because it can at times be used in a good sense. But I think today, Trinitarian language does more harm than good in the end. In the modern understanding of it, it portrays the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit as being same exact type of being/person. And the word God in the New Testament is essentially a reference to the Trinity. In the end, it now leads to a skewed concept of the portrayal of the three persons in the Bible.

Only once anywhere in the New Testament is Jesus referred to explicitly as God, John 1:1 (I’ll leave the discussion of the supposed references in the Pauline pastorals for another day). And in that instance, it is not ho theos (the Greek article and the Greek word for God) that was the frequent pattern used throughout the New Testament to refer to the God of Israel, but simply as theos. This isn’t a Jehovah’s Witness argument saying that it should be understood as “a god.” Rather, it is saying that Jesus wasn’t being identified as some person of a trinity, but rather that he is the God in essence, or in nature. A better way of putting it is that he proceeded from God, hence the usage of logos which had philosophic undertones along with a reference to the words attributed to God in Genesis 1 (see 1:3).

The importance of this for New Testament theology isn’t so much in Jesus ontological position, but rather what Jesus reveals. In 1:5 the word is spoken of as light. In Hebrews 1:3 it says the Son is the exact representation of God’s nature. Romans speaks of Jesus as the revelation of God’s righteous nature and the mercy seat (the place of atonement where also the cloud of God’s presence existed). And then, as NT Wright argues in Jesus and the Victory of God, Jesus takes upon the roles that were attributed to YHWH throughout the Old Testament. My point is, with the exception of the last point, that Trinitarian language does a rather poor job of communicating that point, the point that is emphasized throughout the New Testament. To speak like this implies a sense of subordination, that Jesus is not revealing himself so much as the God YHWH. Such notions are not readily included in Trinitarian language, nor Trinitarian logic that necessities that Jesus is equal in all ways to the Father.

In addition, Trinitarian language also tends towards docetism. If Jesus is the second person of the Trinity and is one with the Father, he must take upon all the characteristics of the Father. So we tend to see the exclusion of his humanity. Trouble is attributed to sayings like that not even the Son of Man himself doesn’t know when he will come. And if we take away Jesus’ humanity, we get some “revelation” that is of little value for us people. He doesn’t really reveal to us God’s righteous nature that we are ourselves to emulate, because he is an unachievable ideal. He is God, we are merely human. We can not be anything like him.

It also struggles to make sense of some of the Gospel narrative, for instance when Jesus says “Why do you say I am good? None is good by God.” If we make the automatic equation of Jesus with God at the cost of his humanity, instead of a human that also happens to be the divine Word, we struggle to let Jesus himself be struggling for his own vocation. So questions like that either are interpreted awkwardly or are taken as express denials as Jesus’ own divinity. We can not see it as Jesus not sure of his exact nature of the time.

References to the Spirit as the third person of the Trinity have similar problems, but my main issue is how it portrays Jesus in this modern culture.

At one time Trinitarian langauge had value, in a struggle to maintain that Jesus as the fitting object of worship. It has value as a logical paradigm that allows us to maintain Jesus’ divinity in the face of Jewish monotheism. But when it is made as the source of Christian theology, instead of a logical conclusion to make it justified, it leads to problems with the Biblical claims of Jesus. And while one might argue that properly understood, the Trinity doesn’t lead to these problems, we have to ask is it really worth it to try to resurrect proper Trinitarian understanding? Would we claim the langauge itself is holy, or rather that the object(s) of the langauge?

(Later edit: You have to forgive me as I sometimes can be an idiot at times. John 20:28 is also another place where Jesus is explicitly referred to as God, and actually as ho theos, which serves as the final concluding proof for the statement in John 1:1.)

October 1, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | 23 Comments